Swift’s A Modest Proposal

Swift’s A Modest Proposal



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Swift’s A Modest Proposal

Examining Swift’s A Modest Proposal in the context of greater Western thought it is very clear that the author was criticizing various social institutions and practices present at the time. The author disintegrates religion, class systems, and monarchical regimes through satirical and ironic techniques in his writing. The author immensely employs this approach when he argues about the enlightened. A class that justifies social and scientific advancements through individualistic thinking, sexual oppression, suspicion and slavery. Because of his satirical criticism, the end of the book becomes surprising when the author employs the same individualistic attributes he argues against to propose bids for selling and eating children. The same satirical surprise is seen when the author suggests that the carcasses of poverty ridden children could be used as women’s gloves and clothing. Through the use of satire, Swift conforms to 18th-century literature where the author had more freedom in his writing than the central drama.

Satirical writing refers to the use of irony, exaggeration, and humor to expose and ridicule vices and stupidity of persons mostly in political or economic matters (Smith, 2011). The approach in literature was employed to criticize the rise of the middle and elite social classes that considered themselves as the enlightened in the community. Moreover, the approach intended to appeal to the sensibilities and ideals of the middle class, the group that had the most power necessary to establish democracy (Smith, 2011). The 17 and 18th centuries are referred to as the years of social history in English culture given the unprecedented growth of trade and commerce activities. Satirical writing had a profound affinity with the middle class, thus had the greatest impact when addressing social matters to the group. For instance, Swift criticizes the middle class in how they employ science without integrating ethics and morality (Swift, 2015).

Satirical writing as a new literary genre was promoted from some political, economic, and artistic cultural shifts. For one, the rise of the middle class as the enlightened necessitated the development of a novel literary approach to improving affinity, appeal, and capture of the social group (Smith, 2011). Satirical writing has a ‘twisted’ purpose of teaching, hence capturing the didactic objective of 18th-century literature. The ascendency of realism was a social and artistic movement that encouraged the use of satire because the technique aligned with its attributes in elemental passion, enthusiasm and mysterious suggestiveness (Smith, 2011). During the same art period, drama and romantic literature were gradually becoming unpopular. Given that much had already been done in art, artists had the imperative to develop a new literary approach that gave them more power to call for democracy and freedom from classical bookish constraints.

The Voyages of Captain Cook drew their connection to enlightened values because they criticized the subsequent implications in sexual oppression and slavery. The narrative through irony teaches on the dark sides of the 18th century Industrial Revolution in England. According to the author, there is a certain embarrassment in English riches at the time that prove rather fascinating (Brotton, 2015). Across all the accounts of sea travel, there is always a conflict between European beliefs and native cultures. This is because the economic activities of the Europeans know no moral boundaries. Cook represents the classic enlightenment character who ventures on a ruthless journey on scientific rationalism and the unjust imposition of European ‘civilized’ values on cultures he came across (Brotton, 2015). The narrative shows how stiff security and wealth in personal riches can lead to conflict between cultures because of egocentric and inconsiderate belief systems and customs.

The growth of liberal values led to the death of absolutist beliefs in 17th century England. Liberalism long predates the presence of England in its political values. Liberal beliefs resist absolution because it gives practicality in life emphasis (Brotton, 2015). Liberal thought argues for the autonomy of the individual and his or her ability to self-direct and compromise when considering the autonomy of others. Absolutist values as seen through Thomas Hobbes argue that ordinary people do not have the ability to govern themselves and should, therefore, subject themselves to the rule of the sovereign in society (Swift, 2015). Absolution contrasts liberal thought in that it does not perceive individuals as independent, equal and free. The approach in modern politics would encourage dictatorial rule because it applauds the flock mentality that argues that the society cannot fashion good for the majority but rather for the minority.

Satirical writing was an approach in literature employed to criticize the rise of the middle and elite social classes that considered themselves as enlightened. The objective was to condemn the social class that justifies social and scientific advancements through individualistic thinking, sexual oppression, suspicion, and slavery. Satirical writing as a new literary genre was promoted from a number of political, economic, and artistic cultural shifts. For one, there was a need to develop a novel literary approach to improve affinity, appeal, and capture of the middle class. Second, the ascendency of realism as a social and artistic movement encouraged the use of satire, as the technique was aligned with the faction’s attributes of elemental passion, enthusiasm, and mysterious suggestiveness. Lastly, satirical writing was promoted by the growth of liberal values in 17 and 18th century England.





Brotton, Jerry. (2015). Enlightenment: Early modern 16-18th century. Enlightenment: History Today. Retrieved From http://www.historytoday.com/jerry-brotton/enlightenment

Smith, Nicole. (2011). Irony and social critique in “A Modest Proposal” and candide. ArticleMyRiad. Retrieved from http://www.articlemyriad.com/irony-social-critique-modest-proposal-candide/

Swift, Jonathan. (2015). A modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public (1729). Project Gutenberg: Victorian Web. Retrieved from http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/swift/modest.html

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